There are any number of film stars who have turned to directing. Regina King joined this club only recently with the release of One Night in Miami.
Generally an actor’s first time behind the camera is strong, possibly because they have been able to learn from others. This is certainly the case with Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty For Me, Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate, Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird and Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone, all of which a good films that reflect some of their creators previous collaborations. Sometimes though they create something dazzlingly original like Jordan Peele with Get Out and Olivia Wilde with Booksmart. Some just hit it out of the park like Robert Redford and Kevin Costner who both earned Academy Awards for Best Picture with their fledgling efforts; Ordinary People and Dances with Wolves. In a lot of cases though a well known performer’s initial foray into calling the shots can be promising but a little underwhelming. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind probably puts George Clooney in this category, as does The Man Without a Face for Mel Gibson. This is definitely true of The Rental too.
The Rental is the directorial debut of Dave Franco. To be fair, Franco has never been any more than solid in front of the camera either. He is fine in the Now You See Me movies, 21 Jump Street and Warm Bodies but he’s no Eastwood, Redford or Costner. He’s not even an Affleck. The film, which is also written by Franco, is similarly engaging but largely forgettable.
The story sees two couples take a weekend away in a beautiful ocean view house. Dan Stevens is Charlie and Franco’s wife Alison Brie is his wife Michelle. Also along for the trip is Charlie’s brother Josh and his girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina. Once you’ve got your head round these relationships it is easy to guess where some of the drama may come from but it transpires that as well as their own complicated relationships, they also have to contend with the guy who runs the house who thinks it might be kind of fun to murder them.
There is something interesting in having a home invasion thriller where the killer owns the home and the innocents are the ones who have entered the property. The film Don’t Breathe did this too but having the victims as Airbnbers rather than burglars here feeds into paranoias about the vulnerabilities of renting, short or long term, and raises questions about how readily we trust strangers. This lands at a time where America is arguably more divided than its been since 1865 and mistrust is rife. It is also quite refreshing that the psycho isn’t some invincible guy with superhuman gymnastic abilities, he’s just a bloke with a hammer.
Ultimately though the film’s simple approach is also its undoing. As a viewer you always guess, unconsciously or otherwise, who is going to survive in movies like this and even though you might not have it right in this case, the result feels a little disappointing. The narrative feels that is is missing something and every time it looks like it might be going somewhere interesting, it just stays on the one road toward its uninspiring destination.
The company might be good (it is particularly refreshing to see Dan Stevens exorcising the demons of laboured ghost story Blithe Spirit) but ultimately I’m not convinced it is a this is a trip you should be taking.
The Rental is not on iTunes to purchase for viewing for a limited time as the title suggests, it is on Amazon Prime.
The Ripley Factor:
Alison Brie’s character is a bit of a cliche as the brittle wife that the creative man isn’t connecting with as much as the woman he works with. Thankfully Mina played by Shelia Vand, who was the girl who walked alone in The Girl Who Walked Alone, steers clear of similar tropes. She certainly has her own clear agency even though this sends her of a cliff a bit toward the end.